A Review of Netflix’s Tiger King

Netflix's Tiger King succeeds at exposing some of the bizarre personalities in the exotic animal industry, but fails to promote animal welfare.

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Joe Exotic pictured with one of the tiger cubs at his Oklahoma zoo.

By now you’ve probably heard of the new Netflix documentary that has taken the world by storm: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness.

 

Tiger King is an overwhelmingly and authentically American true-crime documentary focusing on the bizarre personalities dominating the exotic animal industry. It has a special focus on one individual in particular: zookeeper Joseph Maldonado- Passage AKA “Joe Exotic,” or as the world now knows him, the “Tiger King.” Joe Exotic is not like most people, and it’s not just because he owns a zoo with over a hundred and eighty lions, tigers, and other big cats. Joe Exotic is a gay polygamous, gun-toting redneck, turned libertarian politican that conspired to murder an animal rights activist who had lobbied to shut down his Oklahoma zoo.

 

The first thing the documentary delves into is the longstanding feud between Joe Exotic and animal rights activist Carole Baskin. Baskin‒ the owner of The Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary‒ has been an outspoken critic of many big cat owners throughout the country because of their breeding of big cats and alleged abuse. While Baskin is critical of many of the big cat owners featured in the documentary, including one of Joe Exotic’s own idols, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle (a polygamist who owns a safari in Myrtle Beach), she is especially critical of Exotic because of his mistreatment of animals and his employees (which is well documented in the series).

 

Exotic doesn’t take too kindly to the criticism from Baskin, and he uses his internet series to fire back at the big cat conservationist by claiming she had killed her late husband Don (which might not be that outlandish of a claim). Joe also used his internet series to promote his music career, slander Baskin, and incite violence against Baskin and other animal rights advocates. Only after Exotic is sued and left bankrupt by Baskin and her new husband, does his threats escalate until he orchestrates a murder for hire plot against Baskin.

 

There are simply not enough words to describe everything that happens in this documentary. Needless to say, the plot transcends this description, and possibly the scope of imagination.

 

While the feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin lies at the heart of this documentary, it would be a gross mischaracterization to say that this is what Tiger King is about. At its core, Tiger King reveals what can happen when good intentions are overshadowed by greed, a lust for power, and fame.

 

Tiger King makes great reality television, however it fails to fulfill the purpose of a documentary, which is to educate. This ‘documentary’ had the potential to inform people of the cruel realities that animals face under the hands of those featured in this series; it skims over the fact that there are more tigers living in Americans’ backyards than in their natural homes. This documentary, rather than promoting animal welfare, seems to glorify the very personalities that have no regard for life- like Mr. Exotic.

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